CLEVELAND (AP) — Myles Garrett left the stadium wearing a protective boot, a fitting accessory for a Browns team limping into its bye week.
Cleveland's first four games left a mark.
The Browns lost star running back Nick Chubb and two-time All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin to season-ending knee injuries in the first two weeks. On Sunday, they played Baltimore without quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has an injured right shoulder, and had all their momentum stripped in a demoralizing 28-3 loss.
Between Watson's ailment — and there remain questions about what's exactly wrong — and Garrett dealing with a left foot issue, on top of starting center Ethan Pocic nursing knee and chest injuries, it's ideal for the Browns to take a break.
“It's an early bye, but I think it comes at the right time,” said linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. “It comes at a time where we really needed to just reset, refocus.”
The Browns (2-2) insist Watson's shoulder is structurally sound and he's only dealing with a bruise. And if coach Kevin Stefanski is to be believed, the QB will be back for the Oct. 15 matchup against San Francisco.
However, Watson and the Browns had been adamant last week he'd play against the Ravens — until he didn't.
Cleveland didn't have a chance against Baltimore as rookie backup Dorian Thompson-Robinson's performance reaffirmed that the exhibition season is nothing more than practice games to break up the monotony of training camp.
He wasn't ready.
The lopsided loss capped a rough week for the Browns.
Chubb finally had surgery, which revealed he'll need another to repair a torn ACL. Tight end David Njoku burned himself lighting a fire at home, and Watson, who was limited in practice during the week, told the Browns he couldn't play after a handful of warmup tosses before the game.
While Watson's injury may not to be serious, it could alter how the Browns use him going forward. His running ability is part of what makes Watson such a threat, and now Stefanski and coordinator Alex Van Pelt may have to do some hard editing to the playbook.
Watson must be protected, but there's only so much the Browns can do when he tucks the ball, takes off and exposes himself to big hits like the one he took on a designed run last week against Tennessee.
Chubb's injury has already gutted the running game, and if Watson's game is minimized, Cleveland's offense goes from wide-open to more predictable, and thus easier to stop.
Stefanski made it clear that the decision for Watson not to play was made by the QB, who was coming off his best game since signing a $230 million contract with Cleveland.
“He knows his body. He's played through serious pain before, very serious injuries,” Stefanski said Monday. “It wasn’t a matter of pain tolerance. He just did not feel like he had his full faculties.”
He's got the bye week to get them back.
Garrett remains a stunning, singular force. Although Cleveland's top-rated defense failed to contain Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, who had two TD runs and two scoring passes, Garrett did his part by providing pressure despite the usual extra attention. He recorded another sack and was credited with three quarterback hurries.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The running game has shifted into neutral. Cleveland's inability to run the ball effectively in the first half Sunday put even more pressure on Thompson-Robinson. The fifth-round draft pick was overwhelmed by the moment, but didn't get nearly enough help from his teammates or the coaching staff.
Njoku not only played following his harrowing accident, he was Cleveland's most effective player with a team-high six catches for 46 yards.
“The way he played was unbelievable to me with what he went through,” Stefanski said. "And not just the pass game, the run game. He’s the first guy picking his teammates up off the ground. A warrior. It was impressive to watch.”
General manager Andrew Berry's decision to trade veteran Joshua Dobbs and go with Thompson-Robinson as Watson's backup has come under renewed scrutiny. Thompson-Robinson has shown plenty of promise, but the Browns took a major risk in not having an experienced QB behind Watson and it has already come back to haunt them.
Stefanski said Garrett’s injury is “day-to-day” but the Browns “feel good about him.”
Walker joked that his high-profile teammate is fine.
"I’m not worried about Myles Garrett — ever,” Walker said. “I told him he needs to take that boot off right now because he’s just doing it for show at this point. He’s going to be ready to go.”
Pocic went out with his chest injury in the first half, returned and hurt his knee. Stefanski said Pocic would not play if there was a game this week.
53 — The yardage for Dustin Hopkin's field goal that accounted for Cleveland's only points Sunday. Hopkins, who was acquired in a trade two weeks before the opener, has made a kick beyond 50 yards in three straight games.
Rest, relaxation and then reality as the powerful 49ers (4-0) will come to Cleveland after they host Dallas in a Sunday night game on Oct. 8.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Tom Withers, The Associated Press